Streaks Offer a Snapshot of a Season, Not the Full Picture

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1971 Orioles

June 2, 2014

Let's talk streaks. Now that Boston's win streak is over (Thanks, Cleveland!) we can put their recent up-and-down play into its proper Baltimore perspective. 

In the course of 17 games, the Red Sox did what the Orioles haven't done since 2010 and 2005, respectively. First, the Red Sox lost 10 consecutive games, which the Orioles last did from May 26, 2010 to June 5, 2010. (Ah, 2010, I still hate you. Minus the arrival of Buck, of course.) Next, the Red Sox won seven consecutive games, which the Orioles haven't done since an eight-game streak from April 22, 2005 to May 1, 2005. 

Boston's wild ride and the Orioles' history of win streaks over the past few decades serve to demonstrate once more that a few weeks of baseball, be they good or bad, do not determine the outcome of a season. Unless, of course, you're the 1988 Baltimore Orioles. The '88 O's season-opening 21-game losing streak left them 16 games out of first place before the end of April in a non-wild card era. So minus times when you're historically bad, you've still got a chance.

Last season, I found myself waiting and wishing for an extended win streak that, I felt, would put the Orioles into the postseason. It would be just the difference a middling team needed. Then I looked at their history of win streaks and realized that those streaks did not predict even a winning season much less a playoff berth. 

The Orioles' longest win streak since 1989 is a 13-game run in 1999, and they still finished that season 78-84. Toronto, owners of a nine-game win streak this season, ran off 11 straight last year and finished 74-88. So a team with a 13-game win streak and another with an 11-game win streak each won less than 80 games overall. 

Take a look at the Orioles' playoff seasons and you'll find that many of them featured win streaks and losing streaks that offset each other.

2012: Six-game win streak, six-game losing streak (Zero game difference)

1997: Seven-game wining streak, six-game losing streak (+1 difference)

1996: Five-game win streak, six-game losing streak (-1 difference)

1983: Eight-game win streak, seven-game losing streak (+1 difference)

1979: Nine-game win streak, six-game losing streak (+3 difference)

1974: Ten-game win streak, five-game losing streak (+5 difference)

1973: Fourteen-game win streak; five-game losing streak (+9 difference)

1971: Eleven-game win streak, four-game losing streak (+7 difference)

1970: Eleven-game win streak; three-game losing streak (+8 difference)

1969: Eight-game win streak; five-game losing streak   (+3 difference)

The 1970s are the obvious outlier in that grouping, which serves as yet another reminder of how darn good those O's teams were. Just look at 1970 when the Orioles had an 11-game win streak and never lost more than three games in a row. That's how you win 108 games. But even the 1969 Orioles, winners of a franchise-best 109 games, had a season-best win streak that was only three games better than their worst losing streak. 

The moral of the story? Streaks tend to even out over time. 

Let's end on a positive note, and again the 1970s Orioles are the source. The decade began with the Orioles establishing the two longest win streaks that include the playoffs. The O's won 17 consecutive games from Sept. 20, 1979 through Oct. 14, 1970 and 16 consecutive games from Sept. 19, 1971 to Oct. 12, 1971. The Murderers' Row Yankees are third with a 12 game streak. 

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